Nighttime Cloth Diapering Problem Solving–Using Cloth Diaper History!

If you read last week’s post on A Short History of Diapering in America, you know that I’m both a history nerd and a cloth diapering geek–which make me wonder about obscure subjects.  Like diaper rash in colonial times, Native American treatments for mastitis, and midwives in the wild west.  I’m pretty sure no one else does that!

I’ve struggled with cloth diapering at night with my children, but then wondered how all those moms dealt with it when there weren’t any other options.  My son had a massive bladder that couldn’t be stopped by even the thickest diaper.  Both he and my daughter both had recurrent yeast infections or night wakings that I attributed to cloth.  Sure enough, when we switched to disposables, the problems cleared up.  Still, I hate buying disposables and feel so sad tossing them into the trash.

Some moms, like Rebecca, exclusively used cloth without incident for all their day and night diapering.  This amazes me!

In my research I learned that in the early 1900’s, women started boiling their diapers while doing the laundry.  They had a greater awareness of bacteria and sterilization and used the scalding hot water to prevent diaper rash.

Many readers recommended that I boil our diapers to kill the yeast that was causing infection, but I didn’t really want to haul out the pasta pot on a weekly basis to sterlize my dirty diapers.

As we found in our book, The Eco-nomical Baby Guide, most washing machines don’t reach the necessary hot water temperature to fully sterilize diapers, since most don’t have built in heaters.  Because of that, we recommend actually washing in cold water to save energy.  The temperature that the diapers reach in the dryer actually help kill bacteria–and they can be stripped in hot water every so often to be sure that laundry soap doesn’t build up.

Still, if you are having yeast problems with nighttime diapering, and you do have a sterilizing cycle on your washing machine, it’s worth trying it out.

I may try dumping boiling water on my diapers in the bathtub and just soaking them for awhile.  If I then try cloth diapering at night and don’t have the yeast issues, history will have rescued me!

Here’s another question: Did people in the 1960’s still boil their diapers?  I would assume that after the invention of the washing machine, people didn’t resort to this sort of laundering technique.  Since most people used cloth, did everyone just have more information about how to prevent yeast infections?

On Wednesday, I will share the wealth of tips I’ve gotten to help deal with yeast infections at night.  In the past, I honestly felt too tired to trouble shoot, but now that my baby is sleeping through the night, I think I can take on a few suggestions!


  1. Two things: even in the ’60s, I’ll bet there was still a large part of the population who did not have a washing machine yet. I ran across an old Good Housekeeping magazine from the mid-sixties once, and I was surprised to see people mentioning their desire for a washing machine so they could stop using washboards, boiling water, etc.

    Also, I’ll bet that everyone was using chlorine bleach! This is probably fairly common amongst cloth diaper users today. Bleach does sterilize. (For our uninitiated readers out there: We don’t recommend using bleach because it’s toxic for baby and the environment. It’s also bad for the diapers.)

    I’m curious if you ever tried the gDiaper insert + cloth diaper combo for nighttime. Didn’t people suggest that before? You’d have the sterile disposable surface against the baby’s skin with less waste than a full disposable diaper.

  2. Somewhere my husband read an article that said women ironed their diapers and this prevented diaper rash. He can’t remember where he read it and I did a little internet searching and couldn’t find anything. Maybe this is what they did?

    We haven’t had a problem with diaper rash or anything and exclusively use cloth diapers. Prefolds during the day and bumGeniuses at night. The bums I feel wick away more moisture; when we weren’t using them his skin was inflamed and red in the morning. We switched to cold water after reading your article and no problems. Love these history posts!

  3. Well rest assured you are not the only one to ponder obscure history! It is fascinating to think that with all our modern advances we still don;t have it al figured out and often end up hurting ourselves more! We also don’t do cloth at night because of rashes. I wonder where all that knowledge went from the past?

  4. When I notice a build up or stink on the diapers, I do boil the diapers, and it works great! Yeast is tricky though…
    You need to make sure the rash is gone from your child then kill it in the diapers so it doesn’t reinfect. To kill the rash, use a cotton ball with cider vinegar on your babies infected area. To kill the yeast in the diapers:
    1. Place a few drops of Tea Tree Oil in your washing machine with the infected diapers in a cold wash.
    2. Use Oxyclean with hot wash.
    3. Then put the diapers out in the full sun to dry.
    Cloth diapering at night is possible! We’ve finally worked out our kinks and now are CDing day and night. Best of luck to you!

  5. Ashley–full sun might be a problem here in Oregon. We sometimes don’t get sun for several months in a row. I’ll bet your first two steps + drying in the dryer (rather than on a rack) would work as well, though!

  6. My mom used bleach in a wet pail and no problems. That is one advantage of prefolds and flats- bleach won’t wreck them!

  7. Lisa, we don’t recommend using bleach–or a wet pail!–for environmental reasons. We go over this in more detail in our book, The Eco-nomical Baby Guide.

  8. I know that in the 1980’s, my mother “had” to use disposables with me because I had rashes, which were likely yeast rashes. She had used a diaper service with my older brother, but by the time I came around she had some diapers and bought enough to wash them herself. So my guess it that you are right in that they need to be washed at higher temps to kill the yeast. I have had the same problem with my son, but we use the XXSanitary wash and it doesn’t seem to help. So I am convinced that for him, the natural flora is high and a 12 hour stretch in a wet diapers is just too much…

  9. We were getting diaper rashe (although not yeast) a lot with my son when we were using prefolds. We started using Fuzzibunz once he got big enough and we haven’t had a rash since. We now use our prefolds on the changing table and as backup if the FB are in the wash.

  10. Rebecca-Hadn’t thought about sun being a luxury! I’m in the sunny south. I think you are right…the dryer should do the trick.

  11. OMG! I thought I was the only nerdy one who thought about these things! Maybe us nerds need to get together and write a book on the subject. Mothering the old-fashioned way w/TOC categories like Cloth Diapering Before the Invention of Washing Machines…LOL…or Warm Butter and the Pantry Before Refrigeration!

  12. about yeast & bleach… i have found that peroxide is a great stand-in for anything someone would need “bleach” for cleaning (have bought it by gallon via, very cheap)…

    and about yeast, i have found that my own yeast problems went out the window when i started to make kefir at home with grains… at first i made it to just for eating, but found that my hands started to smell different also (from pouring the kefir into gauzey-cloth and squeeze out the whey)…

    i started to get ideas to use the kefir/whey/grains for vaginal yeast problems and that was a tremendous success very quickly (3 days) and any time it returns (the smell/itch) it returns far less and responds well to my just applying the kefir/etc… the candidas that live in the grain-colonies over power candida albicans and are non-pathogenic… they crowd out the bad-guys…

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